When Ravenna did its streetscape project in the 1990s, it solicited the assistance of a national expert, who urged the city to keep its historic-looking traffic signals.
Now, the city is in the midst of a massive upgrade of the city's traffic lights. But when Barry Williams, the expert who encouraged Ravenna to keep its old-style lights, heard about the plans, he said he was shocked.
Williams is encouraging the city to replace everything about the signals except the box that holds the light bulbs, keeping smaller bulbs but replacing them with modern, energy-efficient LED lights.
"You'd have modern traffic signals on Main Street, but they'd still look old-timey," Williams said.
But city officials point out that the project is already in process, and will result in lower maintenance costs and safer signals.
"Everything's got a shelf life," Council President Fran Ricciardi said. "They're now a financial drain. After that point, it's best to save money by replacing them rather than repairing them constantly."
Williams established a group 20 years ago called the American Streetscape Society. City officials contacted him when they were considering a streetscape project in the mid 1990s.
Williams encouraged the city to keep its old-fashioned signals. The city bought 10 signals from OMJC in Iowa, a company that buys unused traffic signals and upgrades them with modern bulbs. Eight of those signals were put up at four intersections in the city's downtown in 1995.
"A lot of cities have gone to these retrofitted traffic signals," Williams said. "Ravenna was at the forefront."
Over the years, Williams said, he encouraged the city to replace the bulbs with LED bulbs, but officials at the time balked at doing so.
Recently, he said, he got a call from a traffic signal restorer in New Philadelphia, who informed him about Ravenna's plans.
The city is planning to upgrade most of the traffic signals in town as a result of two major projects -- the Honeywell project, which is funding upgrades designed to conserve energy, and the West Side Signalization Program, which will replace 10 signals to be funded by an AMATS grant.
The Honeywell project is already well under way, City Engineer Bob Finney said. Crews have finished setting pole bases. The new poles, or masts, should go up in January and February, he said, with the signals planned to go live this spring.
The West Side project is scheduled to start in 2016, but could be moved up, Finney said.
The downtown signals, he noted, would keep their existing fluted poles, with new arms on them to hold the new signals. The new signals will be 12 inches, larger than the 8 inch bulbs the city has now. The signals also will have LED lights, resulting in better energy efficiency and longer life on the bulbs, will allow the city to program the signals remotely, and have push button features for pedestrians. The signals also will be able to be aligned more accurately than they can be on the existing wires, he said.
The new signals, Finney said, meet the federal standards for 12 inch bulbs and will not have any overhead wires.
"They're nice," Finney said, noting that the fluted poles will remain. "You're still going to have the same feel."
The city has been plagued with problems on its existing traffic signals this year. Recently, council gave the engineering division an additional $15,000 for signal repair. Most of that cost, Finney said, is related to labor, since a special signal repair company must be dispatched to do the work.
Williams said the city could easily replace the controllers, which tend to be the source of problems on signals, as well as the poles and even replace the bulbs with LED's, but said the 8 inch bulbs would also meet federal standards for Ravenna based on its speed limit.
"Even though they're not 12 inch bulbs, they're so bright you can see them for miles," he said.
Finney said some people have asked about buying the old signals. The signals, he said, will likely be sold at auction.
"Council knew this was coming," he said. "None of them seemed concerned."
Ricciardi who, like other members of council, was not on council at the time of the streetscape, said he's not concerned and rarely even notices traffic signals. He likened them to new carpet, saying that after 24 hours, "you just walk on it."
"When was the last time you heard anybody say, 'The streetscape looks nice,' " he said. "It was a nice community improvement, but it needs some freshening up."
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